Every day, Mumbai residents are being squeezed out of spaces to walk or cycle by the sheer pressure of cars, whose numbers are growing rapidly each year. A recent report by the Munich-based global consultancy Roland Berger Strategy Consultants stated that the Indian passenger vehicle market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%, and will reach annual growth of five million cars by 2020. According to consultancy Strategy&, India will be third largest market for annual vehicle sales in the world by 2030.
In an attempt to help reclaim streets for people, EMBARQ India has initiated “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement” with the help of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Mumbai Traffic Police, and with support from the Times of India Group. Equal Streets will be held every Sunday, starting this weekend on November 9.
In addition to the omnipresent danger posed by motorized transport on the roads – which are in fact public spaces – Indian cities face a rising toll of air and noise pollution, traffic crashes, completely eradicated footpaths, increasing investment in roads and flyovers (also known as overpasses), increasing traffic speeds, high stress levels from driving, and the loss of tree cover from increasing automobile infrastructure that has left Mumbai gasping for breath.
How do we deal with this complex web of problems to create more humane and environmentally sustainable streets instead of highly unequal roads that favor cars? How do we make cities and their streetscapes more livable? How should we reclaim some street space for pedestrians and cyclists?
EMBARQ India is launching “Equal Streets – A Citizens’ Movement” with the intention of correcting this fundamental imbalance. The movement strives to put the people at the center of road use for major roads, including Linking Road, SV Road, and a section of Juhu road in the suburbs of Mumbai. Through this bold movement, communities will regain some control of major roads and declare them closed to motorized traffic for a few hours every Sunday morning, and perhaps eventually more.
The mission: Establishing the right to equal space in the city
Everyone, regardless of their class or wealth, will have equal access to the open spaces of the Equal Streets loop. One side of the road will be closed to vehicular traffic to create a 6 kilometer (3.7 mile) open space for people. The other side will remain open for general traffic. People of all age groups are welcome to interact with their community and participate in activities like yoga, aerobics, cross fit, Zumba and street dancing.
Equal Streets, as the name suggests, gives Mumbai residents an opportunity to access the roads as public rather than private spaces. It seeks to rid select roads of an oppressive hierarchy whereby motorists believe that they have a right to occupy the majority of space while pedestrians and cyclists are pushed to the periphery, always in danger of being injured, and suffering from toxic vehicle emissions.
In every corner of Mumbai, there are conventional and non-conventional spaces that should be opened for public use. Equal Streets can network such spaces by connecting them with walking and cycling tracks. This promotes healthy activity and seeks to correct the sedentary lifestyle in which even children now partake.
While Equal Streets certainly aims to be a fun, community-building event, at its core it is an important statement about public space and democracy in urban India. According to Binoy Mascarenhas, Manager of Urban Transport for EMBARQ India:
This movement does not end at declaring a car-free day but aims at raising greater public awareness regarding the significance of public spaces in Indian cities. Thus Equal Streets is not a one-off initiative but a sustained movement by the people. The objective is to provide walking and cycling tracks throughout all neighborhoods in the city. This is the assertion of a democratic principle, based on the rights of citizens to equal space in the city, which should be a part of Mumbai’s Development Plan. The closure of certain streets to motorized transport will result in achieving the larger mission.”